WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the first time since the controversy erupted on the national scene, President Barack Obama weighed in on the killing of Trayvon Martin, calling it a tragedy, urging cooperation among law enforcement and declaring that "some soul searching" was needed throughout the country.
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said, underscoring how the issue affected him on a personal, and not just a political or legal, level. "I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
The statement by Obama came after he introduced Dartmouth President Jim Kim to be the next head of the World Bank during an appearance in the Rose Garden. He took only one question before heading back into the West Wing -- signaling that both he and his press handlers were feeling pressure, coming from black activists and others, to make a public comment on the Martin case.
Obama was careful not to get too far ahead of events. He said he was wary of "impairing" an ongoing legal process but praised the fact that federal, state and local law enforcement are now working together on Martin's death.
"Obviously, this is a tragedy," he said. "I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids, and I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together -- federal, state and local -- to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened."
He went on.
"I think all of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen," said Obama. "And that means we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident."
The latter point may, in the end, be the most politically consequential. George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin in late February, has avoided arrest by evoking the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, which allows individuals broad latitude to claim self defense in wielding a firearm. Florida is one of 21 states with such laws, which have since come under intense scrutiny even by previous supporters. Prior to that law being passed in Florida, there were 13 "justified" killings in the state each year. Since then, there have been 36, as reported by the Associated Press.
Below, a slideshow of politicians' reactions to the Trayvon Martin shooting:
"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/obama-trayvon-martin_n_1375083.html" target="_hplink">President Obama said</a>. "I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."
Newt Gingrich <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/newt-gingrich-trayvon-martin_n_1375246.html?1332517208" target="_hplink">told Piers Morgan</a> that the Trayvon Martin case was tragic, and that he didn't believe the shooting would be covered by Florida's Stand Your Ground law. "I think Americans can recognize that while this is a tragedy -- and it is a tragedy -- that we're going to relentlessly seek justice, and I think that's the right thing to do," Gingrich said. Asked about the <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jGvt4B1k3oYa22McRcMZW59i8b0w?docId=c220cf9300364978aaf2b5e9ed3ca1b4" target="_hplink">Stand Your Ground</a> law, he said, "The young man apparently was not following the person who's being investigated. Apparently, the shooter was following the young man. That's not a stand your own ground, that's a chase the other person into their ground. And I think you're going to find the law, as interpreted normally, doesn't apply to this case."
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) condemned the killing of Trayvon Martin, but cautioned against making the case a racial issue. Below, his full statement <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/allen-west-trayvon-martin_n_1373919.html" target="_hplink">as posted on Facebook</a>: <blockquote>I have sat back and allowed myself time to assess the current episode revealing itself in Sanford, Florida involving the shooting of 17-year-old Treyvon Martin. First of all, if all that has been reported is accurate, the Sanford Police Chief should be relieved of his duties due to what appears to be a mishandling of this shooting in its early stages. The US Navy SEALS identified Osama Bin Laden within hours, while this young man laid on a morgue slab for three days. The shooter, Mr Zimmerman, should have been held in custody and certainly should not be walking free, still having a concealed weapons carry permit. From my reading, it seems this young man was pursued and there was no probable cause to engage him, certainly not pursue and shoot him....against the direction of the 911 responder. Let's all be appalled at this instance not because of race, but because a young American man has lost his life, seemingly, for no reason. I have signed a letter supporting a DOJ investigation. I am not heading to Sanford to shout and scream, because we need the responsible entities and agencies to handle this situation from this point without media bias or undue political influences. This is an outrage.</blockquote>
"What happened to Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. There needs to be a thorough investigation that reassures the public that justice is carried out with impartiality and integrity," <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/republican-hopefuls-react-to-trayvon-martin-killing/" target="_hplink">Mitt Romney said</a> in a statement.
Rick Santorum said the shooting was "horrible" and a "chilling example of the horrible decisions made by people in this process." "Stand Your Ground is not doing what this man did," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120323/us-santorum-neighborhood-watch/" target="_hplink">Santorum said</a>, adding that he believes the Justice Department should leave the matter to local and state authorities.
Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/trayvon-martin-state-attorney_n_1374206.html" target="_hplink">said</a> a state task force would review Florida's Stand Your Ground law and recommend changes "so that we might help avoid such tragedies in the future."
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) denounced shooter George Zimmerman as "a renegade wannabe policeman neighborhood watchman." "Mr. Speaker, I am tired of burying young black boys," Wilson said <a href="http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/pulp/2012/03/frederica_wilson_trayvon_martin.php" target="_hplink">during a speech</a> on the House floor. "I am tired of watching them suffer at the hands of those who fear them and despise them. I am tired of comforting mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers after such unnecessary, heinous crimes of violence."
"Well, first of all, it's a great tragedy," Condoleezza Rice <a href="http://video.msnbc.msn.com/mitchell-reports/46810837/#46810837" target="_hplink">told Andrea Mitchell</a>. "This young man has been deprived of life and that's an enormous tragedy. And we all should have prayers and for his family and for those who are left behind. So it's a great tragedy. That's the first thing to say. Secondly, I've always said that obviously, we are not a race blind society. We aspire to be one, we work toward it, we've gotten better, but we are not yet. But I'm not going to comment on the legal aspects of this case because as I understand it, the Justice Department is looking into it, local authorities are looking into it, and I certainly hope that justice will be done here and due process accorded. But I'm not going to comment on the legal aspects of this. I'm not competent to do so."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-congress/2012/03/mcconnell-trayvon-martin-shooting-incredible-tragedy-118450.html" target="_hplink">called the shooting</a> an "incredible tragedy," but declined to comment on the "Stand Your Ground" law. "It is an incredible tragedy of huge proportions," he said. "I'm glad it's being investigated and we'll take a look at it as the investigation moves along."
"The killing of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy, and nothing will bring him back," Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote in a statement. "But there remain unanswered questions surrounding his death, and I applaud Attorney General Eric Holder for opening an investigation. Trayvon and his family deserve nothing less, and my thoughts are with them in this unimaginably difficult time. Any single incident where an unarmed civilian is gunned down is one too many, but sadly, similar incidents have occurred in other states, including in Nevada. I trust the Justice Department and law enforcement at all levels will provide the justice that Trayvon's loved ones and our country deserve."